A Glory Not My Own

I’m really not a sports person.
After moving to the South, I’m learning that you can’t really be here without being a sports person. Especially during football season.
Everyone has their team. They talk about it, follow the scores, buy the merchandise, and boast like crazy when they win.

Boasting can be defined as speaking of or asserting with excessive pride.

Pride? Pride is bad. Pride is a sin. Right? And ‘excessive’ is never good either. So boasting is bad? No. It isn’t so much a matter of whether or not to boast, but a matter of what we boast about.

But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.
(Galatians 6:14 HCSB)

Paul boasts. But Paul recognizes that there is nothing worthy of boasting about in his life except the victory won by Christ on the cross.

One of the most unappealing things to witness at church is broken Christians boasting about their (sometimes visibly) broken lives. To hear a Christian puff up their own victories should be sickening. Regardless of the quality of your spiritual walk, you are weak and helpless to sin outside of the power of Christ.

So lets boast- we have much to boast about! But let’s remember Who is worthy of glory, because I promise you, there is only One.

Lord God,
You are worthy of all our praise and boasting. Let our pride for you be greater than our pride for ourselves or the Georgia Bulldogs. Thank You for Your victory on the cross, and giving us a reason to boast. May we always remember our purpose in You. Amen.

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Get Up and Live.

You will know that I am the Lord, My people, when I open your graves and bring you up from them.

(Ezekiel 37:13)

It is the very essence of God that He will receive glory through our salvation, through bringing  us to life. As I read Ezekiel 37: 1-10, I see myself laying in the valley. Remnants of myself, what once was a body, now dry and disassembled. Scattered amongst the remains of others. Surely I have been picked over by scavengers. Maybe my belongings were looted by passerby. Whats left now is a skeleton of a man, if it can be called that.

Those who look out over me see hopelessness. They see what once was but is no more. To them, I am finished, useless. What could have led me to this state? One act. One act that lead to a terrible fall. One bite, if you will. It set me on a downward slope of never-ending consequence where each action leads to an exponentially greater fall. The more I tried to save myself the harder and faster I fell. Then I hit the bottom. It’s there, in the valley, that I lay, among others who met the same fate. Each of us trying so desperately to save ourselves. But now we lay here. Dry. Dead. Disassembled. Desperate.

That is when He comes along. He sees us not in our current state, but in a restored and brilliant manner, powerful and worthwhile. It’s with one breath that life begins to come back into us. With one breath we become reassembled. With one spoken command we are more than restored, to a holy and blameless state. His Spirit is within us, His power is among us. We are more than the men we once were. We are a new creation. A great and powerful army.

The same shell that was once useless, lifeless, and broken now has purpose. There is now a reason for its existence. In living, the Breather of Life receives glory. Our life in its restored state is a testimony to His power. It shows that He is good, He is strong, and He is the Lord.

For the Least of These.

Once a year my church completely shuts down for a whole weekend. No services, no meetings, no bible studies. Everyone is encouraged to go out into the community and serve. More than 800 volunteers serve in areas ranging from home renovations to yard work, giveaways to random acts of kindness. I was blessed to be able to serve on the car wash team this year. We spent all day washing cars completely free- no donations accepted. Just free.

While I believe we live in a society of entitlement and all too often greed, I have found that people have a hard time truly accepting anything for free. Why? Because that requires humilityadmitting that you have a need.

At one point in the day, a very challenging old woman came by. She wanted her car washed, but on her terms. She began bossing around some of the younger volunteers and making demands. She also (repeatedly) expressed her disappointment that we were not vacuuming or buffing the windows inside the car. I am not the most patient person. Really, I wish I was, but it just isn’t my gifting. I so badly wanted to say, “Look, lady, we are doing this for free; take what you get.” But I didn’t. Instead, I stayed quiet and continued to serve. I heard the still, small, patient voice inside.

Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven.
(Matthew 5:12)

As I was detailing the inside of my new friend’s car, she began to share her story. She told me that she was a recent widow. She shared that she was a breast cancer survivor, but was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. She shared some of her financial struggles. It became clear that this was a woman who was in need of some love, grace, and patience. When we finished her car, she gave me a big hug and expressed her gratitude. She said she wouldn’t have been able to afford a car wash on her own or do it herself. Seeing her gratitude was the biggest blessing I could have received!

Reflecting on her testimony and the events of the day, I am reminded of Christ’s gracious sacrifice for us. The same way my challenging friend wanted a free car wash done her way, we often want to accept the free gift of salvation on our own terms. “Jesus, I will accept your grace, but I still want to do this.” “Jesus, I’ll let you save me, but I’m not sure I want to do such-and-such.” We need to remember that grace is free- you don’t get to have it your way. We struggle with salvation because we lack humility. With salvation, just like at the car wash, all you need to do is accept the free gift, no strings attached and no work required.

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Father God,
I thank you for being able to serve today. Thank you for blessing me with enough, so I can give to others. I pray for my new friend. May she find peace and healing in You. Help me to remover that You are offering grace as a free gift. No work required. Give me a humble heart that is willing to accept that grace on Your terms. In Your Almighty name, Amen.

It Doesn’t Even Matter.

Qu’est-ce que c’est le point?

What is the point of it all? Why bother? Is it really worth it? What is the meaning of this?
Life can be a little bit (or a lot a bit) dreary depending on your circumstance. Sometimes its easy to sit back and question the purpose of our motives. Does it matter if I go to work? Why should I finish off this degree? Is it worth getting married? Should I buy a house? Why bother?

I’ve been captivated by Ecclesiastes lately. And like many before me, I’ve been wondering if the Bible screening committee missed that one when they filtered out the books that deserved to be part of the canon.

We’re taken through a vast history of God’s people starting in Genesis, leading into powerful, beautiful books of wisdom like Psalms and Proverbs. Then, we hit a little bump. Before the beautiful woman of Proverbs 31 even leaves our mind, we are smacked in the face with a very Squidward-esque and seemly grumpy author of Ecclesiastes.

He, who is referred to as Teacher, opens up stating that everything is meaningless. Everything is pointless. I think the HCSB says it best: everything is futile.

Futile: incapable of producing any useful result

Go ahead and say it. “Absolutely futile! Everything is futile.” (On a personal note, I prefer the UK pronunciation of fyoo-tai-el to the US fyoo-tul when exclaiming this, but was called a “word nerd” for feeling as such.) Again, I picture Squidward (yes, the Nickelodeon character.. no condemnation!) throwing his tentacles in the air and exclaiming such a phrase as he watches “commoners” such as Spongebob and Patrick enjoying their day.

Could that be so? Would our loving, purposeful God ordain such a statement to be made about the life He created for humanity? Yes. As a matter of fact, I think it is in that realization that we can truly understand and come alongside Christ in His calling to us in Luke 9:23-25:

Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. What is a man benefited if he gains the whole world, yet loses or forfeits himself?

To better understand this, we need to unmask the Teacher. Most Biblical scholars would argue that this is none other than the wise King Solomon speaking. But who is Solomon to make such pessimistic and forward claims? What authority does he have? In 1 Kings 3:5-12 we meet Solomon and see how he receives God’s favor. When God appears in a dream and asks him what he would like, Solomon responds, “give Your servant an obedient heart to judge Your people and to discern between good and evil.” I can see God’s face. Nothing surprises Him- but I’m sure He was nonetheless impressed. After all, Solomon was merely a youth with a powerful dad who held the world in his hands. He didn’t ask for money. He didn’t ask for a girlfriend. He didn’t ask for better abs. This pleased God. So God rewarded Solomon with wisdom- so that there will never be anyone like [him] before and never will be again (v 12).

Back to Ecclesiastes… So Solomon is given this undeniable wisdom beyond that of anyone around him. As he surveys the world and the toilsome efforts of his peers, he exasperates “Absolutely futile!”

This stumped me until I thought of it in the context of a message I heard this weekend. It was on Luke 14, a scripture I’ve studied many times before, but never in this way. Jesus was getting pretty popular. He had started to attract crowds of people following Him, some for different intentions than others. I can best understand this when I think of my Facebook friends. Of the 558 people I can call my “friend”, maybe 100 are people I’d say truly know me, 50 are people I’d invite to a party, 20 are friends I will text on their birthday, and 10 are people I could call in tears. And those numbers might be generous.
So likewise, Jesus had to “de-friend” a few of his followers by laying down some truth and letting them know just what they were getting into. Jesus says in Luke 14: 26:

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be My disciple.

Hate. Whoah. Jesus wants us to hate people? No. I am lead to believe that Jesus uses the term hate to exemplify how vividly we need to love Him, that the amount of love we have for other things pales so much in comparison, that it looks like hate. Then Jesus goes on to say in verse 27:

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.

That takes us back to Luke 9. I believe that King Solomon was attune to this wisdom and understanding as he spoke in Ecclesiastes. In comparison to our purpose and commission in Christ, life is meaningless, purposeless, futile.  I think of the popular song by Steven Curtis Chapman “Do Everything”. Our purpose in this life is to glorify God in everything we do and in doing so we both intentionally and unintentionally further the Gospel. That is the key. That is the purpose. That is why its worthwhile. And outside of Christ, everything is futile.

Father God,
Give us your heart for the world, that as we go about our daily lives we are reminded that everything is worthless outside of your purpose. It is in You that we live and move and have our being. Help us to focus on what is eternal- our eternal purpose- and to have wisdom and discernment like our brother Solomon to see the brevity of life and the insignificance of worldly pleasures. Amen.

Need A Hand?

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. But God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.
1 Corinthians 10:13

Life just isn’t always easy. I so wish that it was.
God doesn’t promise we won’t hit rough spots. Actually, He says we ARE going to.
But, I love His promises.

“except what is common to man”
You are not alone in this. God has given you fellowship with other believers and leaders to encourage you through this issue.
“God is faithful”
He will never leave you or forsake you. He has sent the Holy Spirit to be with you as a comforter.
“beyond what you can bear”
It’s not going to be more than He knows YOU can handle.
“He will also provide a way out”
This is not permanent. There is an end to this season. There will be a peak to the mountain you’ve been climbing.
“you can stand up under it”
I always think of the Greek myth Sisyphus there. He is the mythological figure who has to push a huge rock up a hill. Ironically (or purposefully..) he was the son if the King of Ephyra, also known as Corinth. (As in Corinthians….) I imagine him rolling this huge rock (our struggle) up a hill and then getting to the top and picking it up over his head and literally grunting and roaring in victory!

It is never easy on the journey, but the reward is great when you have reached the top. Be strong. You are not alone- God is faithful. This, too, shall pass. Image

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On My Honor.

On my honor I will do my best….

Today Christians are given a beautiful opportunity to show God’s love, mercy, grace, and mildness to others. Regardless of your stance on the recent decision of the Boy Scouts of America, or gay rights in general, you are being given the opportunity to respond.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
Colossians 4:5

Don’t be deceived. What appears to be a source for conflict is really an opportunity to respond. How you respond is up to you. But it is how you choose to respond that will either further the Gospel of love or deepen the lie of self-righteousness.

It really doesn’t matter what you think. Sorry- that sounds harsh, but its true. God’s truth does matter.

Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Philippians 2:3-4

Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:8

So God’s truth for us is to regard others as incredibly valuable and precious people- His divine creation, and to love them intensely. I love that the HCSB translation uses the word intense. Something intense is usually skirting the line between joy and pain. How would it feel to love someone so intensely that it almost hurts?

As people talk (and talk they will!) about the latest decision made by the BSA, try to remember that each conversation is an opportunity to share with others that God loves them deeply, exponentially more than He dislikes their sin. Try not to focus on what the people are doing that is wrong and immoral- you can’t change that. Instead, focus on the larger, all-encompassing message of love to all people. Love people, whether they are themselves sinning or supporting something you feel is inconsistent with God’s word. After all, its that intense love that will cover a multitude of sins.

On my honor I will do my best,
To do my duty to God and His people,
And to obey His omnipotent law.
To love others intensely at all times,
To value others above myself,
to be wise and exhibit intense love.